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Climber and Author David Roberts Dies at 78

He was one of the most celebrated writers of climbing in the past 50 years

David Roberts, who was often called the “dean of adventure writing” has died at the age of 78. He was one of the world’s most prolific mountain authors, with his well known books including Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative and The Mountain of My Fear.

In summer 2015, Roberts was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer, but continued to write articles and stories. He attended the Banff Mountain Festival and participated in a number of talks, including interviewing Jimmy Chin (watch below). In 2016, he appeared with Alex Honnold at events to promote their book Alone on the Wall.

In 1965, Roberts received a mathematics degree while attending Harvard University. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver in 1970. He also was a member of and former president of the Harvard Mountaineering Club, where he led expeditions to Alaska, and made the first ascent of Wickersham Wall on Denali, the West rib of Mount Huntington, climbed in the Western Brooks Range and the Kichatna Spires, and on the East Face of Mount Dickey. He also famously named Alaska’s Revelation Mountains.

This past winter, Roberts spoke with Nell Porter Brown for an article in Harvard Magazine called ‘Defying Limits: David Roberts reflects on a lifetime of adventures, risks, and rewards.’ Brown asked Roberts, “Would it be consoling to know that so much time facing and grappling with fatal risks, harnessing fear, prepares us for the natural end of the rope?” To which Roberts replied:

Yeah, it would be calming, wouldn’t it? But I’m afraid I don’t have a comforting answer. Everything depends, I think, on whether you believe in God and/or the hereafter. If you don’t, like me, then death is truly the end, and it remains, no matter how inevitable, terrifying and in some way unknowable…. Climbers cherish the illusion that they’re somewhat in control of their fate. Their manifestos gush with self-congratulatory tales of how they skirted danger or ‘cheated death.’ But we all know that the wrong falling stone or avalanche or sudden storm can snuff us out, no matter how we prepare.

Roberts was a longtime friend and climbing partner of writer Jon Krakauer. In 1977, they completed a new, difficult route in the Bighorn Range of Wyoming. Roberts briefly mentions the climb in his book On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined published in 2005. In 1998, the two wrote Iceland: Land of the Sagas. Krakauer remembered Roberts on social media after the news of his death was made public. Our condolences to the family and friends of Roberts.

David Roberts interviews Jimmy Chin in Banff